Dynamic Neuromuscular Stabilization, Dynamic Systems Theory, and The Degrees of Freedom Problem

A combination of methods for a unified approach

This post is going to be a bit different than all of my prior ones. To preface it, I am of the same mind as performance director of Altis, an elite track and field training environment said in his 8th great blog post,  “Normally, I’d break this down into a couple of posts - maybe even 3.  But this deserves to go out as one single piece.  The length will no doubt scare many people away, and it won’t get as many views as it deserves - but I don’t care.  If you don’t have the patience to work through this, then to be honest, you’re not the type of coach this is written for anyway.” I encourage people outside of the human performance field to finish this piece, but understand if you do not. 

Within this post I will discuss how Dynamic Neuromuscular Stabilization (DNS) or Ontogenesis (development of an organism), Dynamic Systems Theory, and the Degrees of Freedom Problem all blend together. I hope to give further understanding to each of these topics, as well as introduce how they all blend together for a unified approach for athletic performance.

For those of you who do not already know, DNS has had a pretty hefty influence on my sports performance training. The DNS website states that it is “the next generation of clinical protocols that are designed to restore and stabilize locomotor function.” (www.rehabps.com). Notice it only mentions “clinical protocols.” I believe it also belongs in the realm of sports performance. For many athletes these protocols deserve more than just Therabands. They can also be trained with weight, speed, intensity, and frequency variations. Which to my knowledge is something that has yet to be done anywhere else. 

DNS is based on genetically hardwired, developmental positions that occur throughout the first year of all human life, A.K.A. ontogenesis. The patterns have the short term effect of getting the baby to roll over, crawl, squat, etc. But a long term effect of allowing us to move pain free as adults. Progressions from supine to standing are essential for proper brain and body development. 

Take this image below for instance, the femur of a five year old paraplegic child is shaped like that of a healthy newborn because proper muscle contraction throughout these developmental patterns was never experienced, just as the newborn has not yet progressed through these developmental patterns.

Thus, these positions and patterns are the blueprints for ideal movement and bone structure throughout life. The developmental milestones arrange the body in the most ideal posture for the most co-contraction of all surrounding musculature. This is the most appropriate, most efficient, most ideal contraction. This position of a joint is called centration. It is most ideal because it is the same position that helps create the actual bone structure of the joint and the ideal length-tension relationship of the muscle. By putting our bodies in these specific positions it is the same concept as taking your car back to the original factory for service and upgrades. Rather than the sexier looking auto mechanic down the street. Perhaps named, “Men’s Fitness Auto Repair: 72 ways to get a sexier paint job within 34 seconds!” Movement is so crucial for bone health and shape that even in adulthood our movement shapes our bones, just not as rapidly (http://goo.gl/vkZPzU). 

These positions are observed in every normal developing child around the world, and have been this way for eons. Sometimes I am dumbfounded by the increasing number of “teach-your-baby-to-walk” classes, websites, and YouTube videos. Many websites state helping a baby walk will increase its confidence and ensure that it continues to take steps. Guess what, the baby is going to learn to walk anyways, why not expose it to some adversity and allow the baby to overcome hardships to create confidence. Fundamentally these developmental positions are created through the environments our ancestors existed in. Thus promoting evolution to express these patterns in us today as the most efficient mechanisms move us from the ground, to walking, to running, and throwing. 

Food for thought: a tangential thought & conversation Move2Thrive founder Jeff Moreno and I have had: if our environments stop requiring physical movement, will we see these developmental movement milestones disappear? 

Our past environments & thereby evolution decided that these positions prepare our body to deal with whatever situations will come our way throughout the rest of life. Within every one of these ideal patterns, there is a fixed point and a mobile point. These two points establish the traffic flow of muscle contraction. Everything always flows to the fixed point. It is like a blackhole for stability and muscle contraction. For example, during the stance phase of walking, the grounded foot is the fixed point. Everything is contracting towards that grounded foot to continue locomotion moving forwards. When this fixed point is not behaving as it should, things go haywire. If the foot is unstable, we might sprain our ankle, or tweak our knee, etc.

When a baby is lying on the ground and rolling left, the left scapula and hip act as two fixed points to pull the right side of the body towards it. When a right hander throws a baseball, the same thing needs to happen. The left side of the body must stabilize like a door hinge on a frame so the hand/door handle can rotate forwards. This same rotational pattern occurs with Ronaldo kick a ball. Watch how he makes his entire left leg a stable pillar and axis to rotate around in the video.

Observe Jamaican Olympic sprinter Asafa Powell making his left knee and lower leg a fixed point to accelerate his body up and over. 

Once all the patterns have developed, nearly every joint has played its essential role as a fixed point and mobile point. This is done so the body can cope with whatever environmental stressors are encountered throughout life. Again, these patterns exist as a byproduct of eons of human physical movement and physical stressors. We MUST recognize this. If we don’t need to move in our environment, we might as well be rocks! Because even trees need to move in the wind in order to survive (http://www.a4t.org/Stories/bio-dome_lesson.html). 

The other topic I want to discuss is Dynamic Systems Theory (DST). This is where some may be challenged but I urge you to push your comfort zone and continue on. I think it is best described by Frans Bosch in his book. “Strength Training And Coordination: An Integrative Approach.” He eloquently states, “Dynamic Systems Theory claims that movement is designed by an organism’s self-organizing dynamics, that body properties are decisive factors in what the movement will be like, and that motor control has a decentralized structure (Kelso, 1995).” Examples of this can be found within the animal kingdom as well. It is why a school of fish is intrinsically chaotic, but extrinsically in order by its uniform shape. It is how one single neuron does not understand what the body is doing, but all of the neurons together work in concert to allow you sit and read this very sentence. Neurons are lost every day, yet energy is conserved and the other neurons pick up the slack and the task can be completed just the same. Lastly, isn’t our innate development as infants the most pure self-organization dynamics of our species?

Furthermore, the whole system is needed for all individual parts to operate. For example, watch the video below. The baby is attempting to roll right. The right arm, legs, and head are all filling their correct role in the pattern, but the left arm is not. The baby does not roll over until the left arm reaches across and the entire system operates perfectly. This is an example of DNS and DST working together.

Quite simply, the human organism’s self-organizing dynamics are the developmental milestone positions that occur within nearly every human on earth. This has been occurring for the last several thousand years. I have seen villagers in Thailand, Laos, and Cambodia play volleyball.  They self-organize into the same techniques as some of the best professionals in the sport without having experienced or seen any elite play. Dynamic Systems Theory attempts to explain why this phenomena occurs, and I believe ontogenesis plays a large role. 

Bosch goes on to explain that “movements are thus designed by eliminating degrees of freedom until a robust, efficient pattern is left.” I completely agree. When infants are going through these developmental positions they make innumerable attempts to move. Although, if they do not fit the puzzle piece in the hole no whole-body locomotion is created. When a baby is trying to move from sitting upright to crawling, they will place their hands in several different spots. They will fail to crawl until the correct hand is in the correct position. This is because it is not the genetically hard-wired and most efficient hand placement. This specific positioning is the safest position and gives the weak baby the only mechanical advantage possible to initiate locomotion.

Babies within the first year of life systematically eliminate all the inefficient movement actions so the correct patterns are robust and resilient for their unknown future. Only after their ESSENTIAL failures do infants become experts in fitting the correct puzzle piece in the correct hole. 

Unfortunately many of these patterns are slowly being ruined by our current adolescent and adult environments, something Move2Thrive (among others) is intent on addressing.  Check out their website for more information on how our environmental constraints are inhibiting movement function in every day life (www.move2thrive.com). 

Within Dynamic Systems Theory, there are attractors and fluctuators (see image from Bosch’s book). Bosch describes attractors as “stable, economical components of the movement” and fluctuators as “unstable, high-energy [components].” Both of these are needed for fluid human movement. The last piece of the puzzle I must bring into play is the “degrees of freedom (DOF) problem.” Bosch also discusses this topic and again, I will use his description. He writes, “If we have to move from position A to position B, there are very manydifferent ways of making the movement, especially within contextual movements. There is such a vast choice of alternatives that it is difficult to select the most efficient one. When making a movement that involves several joints, each with its own degrees of freedom, there are very many possible combinations of ranges of motion, which can all produce the same result.” This is all true, but based on our self-organizing dynamics there IS a most efficient movement. The problem is that after about the first 4-5 years of life we are able to compensate enough to create several inefficient pathways from A to B. It is no coincidence that at 4-5 years of age is when we start sitting in school and organized sports. 

I believe that as we get further and further away from our developmental stages, the degrees of freedom problem becomes increasingly troublesome for our bodies. Within the professionalsports world individual athletes are known to have a certain “style.” But if you watched a group of 4 year olds (who developed normally) sprinting around, none of them have an individual style. They all utilize the still intact ideal movement solutions for locomotion. These genetically hard wired patterns within each of us exist to combat this inevitable individualization. But because our very nature is to be adaptable, we create this problem within ourselves. We create this through bad environments, bad development, and bad coaching. Today it seems that only a few people self-organize in such a way to survive this age & environmental related problem. 

Now, I want to combine DNS, DST & DOF with real life examples. My first example will be Madison Bumgarner, a left-handed pitcher for the San Fransisco Giants. He is a three time World Series champion, World Series MVP (2014), Babe Ruth Award winner (2014), NLCS MVP (2014), and many more accolades. Bumgarner by many of today’s standards has an unorthodox approach because he throws his pitches with a side-arm movement solution. Due to his massive size and left-handedness this side-arm release point gives him a distinct advantage against batters because the ball not only moves downwards but also sideways, and from a different arm than they are used to.  

Most people these days would not advocate for his style and may assume he would get hurt quite quickly. However I think he is going to last longer than most other side-arm pitchers because of DNS & DST. Bumgarner is able to do this successfully because he is so incredibly strong on his right side (non-throwing side). His right side is serving as his fixed point to rotate around on axis. Watch him pitch and marvel in his right sided stability.

His fixed point is also his attractor, his blackhole of stability. Again, it is a blackhole because it is pulling all the muscle contraction towards it to create violent rotation. Due to his enormous stability he has on the right side, he is able to have high degrees of freedom, fluctuation, and mobile points in his throwing arm. This does not mean he varies his mechanics pitch to pitch, however I believe he has more room for error and has more resiliency with his throwing arm than most other pitchers. If you want to slam your door shut from somewhere that is NOT the door’s handle (the ideal position), you better be sure that your hinges are extremely stable. Bumgarner’s brain, consciously or not, has wonderfully organized a beautiful and unique movement strategy in today’s MLB world of compensators and Tommy Johns surgeries. 

Observe the difference in release points from Greg Maddux (left) and Bumgarner (right) and you can see the difference in arm position. Many consider Maddux to have nearly perfect mechanics. I consider him to have self-organized into a very ideal biomechanical position for his body and brain. He was able to pitch 22 seasons without a serious arm injury. Furthermore he has the most wins in the last 50 years, and is one of the quickest to get to 300 wins. He reached the 300 win milestone in 18 seasons. The fastest since Lefty Grove did it in 16 seasons in 1941. Every pitcher before that did it in under 15 but that is a separate conversation for another day. 

Another difference in Bumgarner is how vertical his spine is during his delivery. I believe he self-organizes into this pattern so he can take advantage of his intrinsic right shoulder stability. This then creates a pair of excellent fixed points and attractors in his right hip and right shoulder blade. His left side uses these two points like two hinges on a door. Maddux, in contrast dips his left, non-throwing shoulder. This leads me to determine that Maddux’s brain is using his lead leg & hip as the main attractor and fixed point. To simplify, Maddux has one main door hinge, and it is his left hip. Both Maddux and Bumgarner are correct in their movement solutions because it is the correct movement solution for their history, body type, and environment. This is a non-reductionist approach that we will discuss later. 

Lastly, Bumgarner has a very unique early arm position where his back nearly faces home plate but as soon as he gets his right leg on the ground he organizes into an extremely good position to exploit his right sided stability. If you examine any other successful side-arm pitcher they have the same strategy of extremely stable lead leg and upright torso. My two favorites are Phil Niekro (below left) Denton True "Cy" Young (below right). Here, my definition of success is having won consistently and stayed healthy for a long period of time.

My favorite athlete and next example is the artwork of movement orchestrated by Ashton Eaton’s brain. Eaton is the reigning two time World Champion, two time World Indoor Champion, Olympic Gold Medalist, Olympic and World Record holder in the Decathlon and the Heptathlon. With these records and accolades he is the greatest decathlete the sport has ever seen. With today’s youth enduring an injury epidemic, his records might last much longer than all other record setting decathletes before him. He is a great subject for all of the aforementioned models because he participates in such an unspecialized sport that has high degrees of freedom. Meaning that within the decathlon, athletes utilize innumerable amount of ways from A to B, yet Eaton has found the most efficient path in most of the events. The discus throw, shot put, and high jump are his worst events. They are not his worst because he moves poorly within them, but that he has prioritized dominating running and jumping events because they award the most points and are more suitable to his body type.

It is impressive that he must master a wide variety of movement techniques, yet he self-organizes into extremely efficient pattern in each and every one. This is because his innate self-organizing dynamics as a human have hardly been interrupted throughout his life. Here are some of the contributing factors to his success and efficiency of movement:

  • First his development & environment as a youth has played an indispensable role. He was a very active and played outdoors growing up in Oregon. 
  • He peaked late in his athletic career. Meaning that his “movements are thus designed by eliminating degrees of freedom [early in his career] until a robust, efficient pattern is left [in his current state].” -Bosch
  • His extremely balanced musculature and ability to stay centrated throughout nearly all movements. 
  • His thirst for knowledge and eternal quest of mastery. It is extremely admirable that he has accomplished all that he has and has said, “I’m not maximized yet.” What a phenomenal growth mindset.
  • He has a ton of fun at practice and training. His motivation never stops which provides for continual learning and sensory/motor patterning. 
  • Extremely successful motor output.

His musculature is a rare trait with today’s athletes. His core does not display a ripped six-pack, but rather he has equal muscle tone throughout. His obliques, rectus abdominus, serratus anterior, neck flexors and other muscles give him a beautiful cylindrical shape. This balanced musculature continues on from his core to his arms and legs. This harmony of musculature allows all his agonists and antagonists to create phenomenal centration and stability. 

Bosch agrees, stating that, “In order to achieve a usable, accurate movement pattern, the ‘noise’ must somehow be dampened. This is done by activating not only the agonists (the muscles that ensure the intended joint motion), but also antagonists.” He continues on with, “When agonists and antagonists contract at the same time, they keep each other more or less balanced. This dampens any error in the signals from the central nervous system. The right balance is thus struct by a number of muscle properties that are not subject to neural control, such as the force/length and force/velocity characteristics of muscles and the elastic properties of tendons. These properties affect how muscles respond to signals from the central nervous system.” 

Bosch just described effect centration has on the body. Centration leads to ideal length-tension relationship of muscles. This property is NOT subject to neural control but rather a byproduct of the environment of the athlete. The balanced length leads to less slack in the musculature which will result in a faster, more accurate movement. Not because the neural signal is firing faster, rather due to reduction of impurities to overcome within the brain’s intended movement. This increased speed also leads to increased power. If power is how much work can be accomplished in a certain amount of time, faster execution will lead to increased power output. If you look at him perform at his highest of intensities in various movement scenarios, he always displays ideal developmental kinesiological movement patterns and is centrated throughout all his movements.

This is Eaton above. Two extremely different movement patterns being displayed at extremely high intensities and with nearly flawless execution. In the pole vaulting picture, his entire spine is perfectly in-line and his core is extremely cylindrical. His back is not extended and his ribs are not flaring outwards like many other pole vaulters. Furthermore he even keeps his neck neutral when many do not. He displays better movement in pole vault than many athletes who specialize in pole-vault! He is able to keep such a good fixed point and attractor at his core and arms, that he can execute a perfect and explosive triple flexion pattern (bending of ankle, knee and hip) in both legs. This allows him to efficiently conserve his horizontal momentum, transfer it into the pole and augment his momentum to an inverted rotation over the bar. 

On right right side we see him sprinting. He is nearing the end of his acceleration phase and battling around 3-5 times his weight in gravitational forces. Yet he is able to maintain masterful movement by having an extremely stable spine to help his limbs pattern perfectly. I love this picture because it really shows how fast his extremities are moving around his stable core. In other words he is having intense fluctuation/mobile points in his legs around a very good fixed point and attractor, his core. His balance of agonists and antagonists allows for his fluctuators to occur in a very efficient path. Marvel at how still his head is in the photo. Other things to appreciate; his right hand is supinated (palm facing him). This is part of the still intact developmental kinesiology and ideal movement in a contralateral pattern (opposite arm and leg moving/stabilizing). His left foot is dorsiflexed, pre-activating his leg for an explosive impact into the ground. His right thigh is near parallel with his spine, not behind it, a common error in running and sprinting. 

 Another great acceleration picture where he displays the exact same movement pattern in a slightly different situation. This is probably his second step into his sprint, yet we see him overcoming inertia with the same degrees of freedom, attractors, and fluctuators. It is these components paired with a wonderful mindset that have allowed him to be the world’s best for the last 5 years. Furthermore, he rarely gets hurt because he moves so masterfully and he states his “top priority is coming away injury free” (http://goo.gl/WNajXt). He never stops the process of getting better so his improvements build on each other over time. Training is just putting a drop of water in a bucket every day hoping that the bucket never tips over and spills due to injury. Good training is strategically preventing the bucket from ever tipping and knowing its weakest points. Hope is a bad plan. Instead, plan to execute movements anywhere near the quality of Eaton and your bucket will not spill for a long time. 

Now look at him throw the javelin and discus. Two very different objects that require different degrees of freedom in the throwing arm. However, you see an extremely similar pattern to Bumgarner AND Maddux! In the discuss, he looks quite similar to Bumgarner, utilizing attractors and fixed points in the non-throwing scapula and hip. In the Javelin you see Maddux, with a higher arm position and slight left lean. The difference is the integrity of Eaton’s spine over Maddux’s, a quality I really like. Even the minuscule properties of his rotational pattern are present. His head and orofacial (face & mouth) muscles are playing their role in the rotational pattern and pulling in the direction of rotation. His neck is full and cylindrical with not one muscle bearing more load than another. 

Let’s go into further detail on the photos from the ESPN Body Magazine issue. Specifically in the photo on the left with the javelin, observe how his spine rotates and extends segmentally, rather than at one or two vertebrae. This allows for optimal co-contraction of all his musculature from legs to arms. If he deviated from this pattern and bent at one or two vertebrae the work would not be shared throughout the body but rather be divided between the right shoulder and left hip. This would create lots of inconsistencies and many different degrees of freedom. If this deviation were prolonged the underutilized areas of the spine would become immobile.

Our lives and bodies are complex biological systems where many different nuances can play a major impact in our lives. Eaton is one of the best male athletes to grace the planet. All of his environmental nuances have played some role in his dominant performance. This is the non-reductionist approach. All aspects of his life, big or small have played a crucial role in his perofrmance. From his growth as a child in Oregon, constantly playing outside, to his late development as a track and field athlete, to his marriage to three-time silver medalist at the World Championships (one indoor) Brianne Theissen-Eaton. 

When I see people who have moved quite well, but with some “noise” or inconsistencies, I see lots of success until the small inconsistencies grow to be insurmountable. In other words the attractor/fixed point isn’t substantial enough for the accumulation of their noisy degrees of freedom. For instance, with Marshawn Lynch has had some long lasting back and abdominal issues. Most of this season he was sidelined with a sports hernia after battling hamstring injuries early on in the year. He flew across the country to see an abdominal specialist but I think the cause of his abdominal and back issues arose from the lack of range of motion in his ankles and his poor triple flexion pattern.

If you look at the picture at left we see a pretty good movement pattern, but dorsiflexion of the foot is missing. This is important because he is not displaying the innate and ideal reflexive pattern of triple flexion (bending ankle knee and hip). He is bending his hip and his knee, but not his ankle. Thus placing greater demand and strain on his core which is doing its best to function as the fixed point. If you look closely you can see his toes trying to extend via his short toe extensors to compensate for the lack of dorsiflexion. Since the muscles that dorsiflex his ankle are not assisting in this pattern, his hamstring must compensate and adapt, which we see in hypertrophy. This further imbalances the pattern and length/tension relationship throughout the system. This is his unconscious, chosen pathway from A to B. Due to him not having centration throughout his triple flexion pattern, dynamic systems theory has guided him to an unsustainable path from A to B. 

Moreover, his core cannot function as an ideal anchor point because the triple flexion pattern is incomplete. The entire triple flexion pattern is needed for the core to stabilize ideally. Just like the baby rolling over, it is an all or nothing system. An analogy I will use for this is my earlier statement of how trees need the wind to survive. The wind blows on trees to create movement, thus the roots MUST harness into the ground better. Marshawn’s leg is a big tree with wind consistently blowing in one direction. Eventually the roots gave up and the tree tipped over. The problem isn’t the roots, it is the wind. 

We need the entire triple flexion pattern to make the core stabilize at it’s maximum capabilities. If I don’t create the ideal tension on the anchor point, why should the anchor point stabilize in an ideal manner when it can compensate and survive. Again, humans are made to adapt and conserve energy by finding the path of least resistance. Often times coaches, parents and other role models push us down the wrong path and our innate path from A to B takes a detour thus creating a problem. 

My assumptions and observations of Lynch's ankles are that he either doesn't have the range of motion, OR his brain self-organizes into a movement solution that over uses his calf & hamstring and omits dorsiflexion. Either way, same effect. If we look at his week-to-week status in 2015 we can see the first warning was his calf, then his hamstring, then his calf, then his hamstring again, then lastly his hernia. If you look at his career, you see recurring back and calf issues. Could his ankle injury in 2007 have been a warning for his current abdominal and back issues? It is a definite possibility, but we do not know.  

I have a saying that applies to individuals’ movement signatures, “How you do anything is how you do everything.” Marshawn does not just deviate from an ideal triple flexion pattern in the open chain, but the closed chain as well. You can see his same right ankle is restricted and his heel is lifted off the ground in this picture (above), thus further avoiding dorsiflexion. You see his long toe flexors creating a hammertoe abnormality. These slight deviations have accumulated over time to give him recurring trouble in the same spots. You can see how much his hamstring has adapted and grown. It has attempted to self-organize into a acceptable structure for him, but because that is not the ideal role for the hamstring and it changes the relationship to other muscles and we see issues. Although this is still a pretty masterful pose of ideal posture it was not enough to keep him free of non-contact injuries throughout his career.

Compare the size and shape of Lynch’s leg to Eaton’s. Then the dysfunction becomes a bit more apparent. See how much larger and unbalanced Lynch’s hamstring is vs. Eaton’s? See how Lynch has no tibialis anterior to help him dorsiflex? Upon this inspection it should be no surprise that Lynch has a history of hamstring, calf and ankle issues. Many times when a muscle is injured people assume it is weak and proceed with strengthening exercises. Lynch’s hamstring is overworked, not weak. In regards to his sports hernia, his core is too weak and/or not functioning well enough to make up for the lack of this ideal pattern that at one point was innate and reflexive.  

Look at two examples of Dynamic Systems Theory again. I want to take this a step further with my own interpretation.

In certain scenarios I take these lines to represent the muscles of the body, which is a fixed length of line. Meaning the lines do not continue off the sides of the pages. They end precisely where they appear to. So I imagined what would happen if the attractor dip became even deeper, or the deepest possible based upon the given length of the line. It would take out any other possibly noisy attractors in a pattern and give the fluctuators more real estate to explore. Deepening this attractor well is also making the genetic pre-programed fixed point as stable as possible. This allows for the mobile point to have maximal co-contraction of agonists and antagonists. I have shown what this would look like in my crude drawing below. In this instance the black line represents one component of a movement pattern. Each page of lines would be a different neuromuscular pattern. Imagine what this line would do to all the other lines above and below it. It would create some pretty uniform structures with minimal perturbations and high resiliency. It would create an extremely efficient movement pattern with peak amounts of integrity.

Imagine if this line represented a person’s movement pattern. The owner’s CNS that created my this line would display consistent and efficient movement patterns. The balls on the flat lines are held in place by the antagonists and agonists to reduce the noise. The balls are on the middle of their respective lines because they also have the appropriate length-tension relationship. This person is physically literate and can solve many different movement problems (obstacles, different sports, etc.). As long as their attractor is strong, they can have a unique/individualized fluctuator, to an extent. If this person was a baseball batter, they could rotate and hit a ball in any part of the strike zone. Analogously, many of the best pitchers and hockey players are also very good golfers. Their attractor is a rotational pattern and their fluctuator is the way their arms move to transfer force into a different object. A good fixed point equals a good mobile point and a wide fluctuation of mobile point positions.

Another topic to briefly consider is the NBA. A population where most move poorly and similar to one another. In a nut shell, their core’s are all too unstable and weak. They have very little ability to make their core a fixed point or attractor, thus the stability must be found else where. Formost it is their hips. Across the NBA, the chairs the players sit in are intended for those half their size. Yet no one does anything. Sure, a few teams have given their players booster seats but they still don’t seem big enough. It’s hilarious to me how the chairs say big, but are quite small for their intended suitors. 

They accumulate hours with lumbar spine flexion and excess knee flexion, so that pattern itself becomes an attractor. If that ball just sits on that line with nothing working against it, it will eventually create its own well to sit in. So of course when NBA athletes get up to run, they all run with very little hip flexion and dorsiflexion, and excess knee flexion/extension. Look at a comparison of technique from an olympic marathoner vs. Kobe Bryant. Kobe's right leg is going to have a much more inefficient loading pattern than the olympian. 

Furthermore, in nearly every player’s defensive stance you can see their lumbar spine flexion (in replacement of hip flexion) from the cheap seats. Then they continue to sit with poor posture during their busy travel schedule and most likely at home too. Over time, this becomes a big issue. Last year the NBA stated one of their biggest goals was to determine why there are so many injuries in the NBA. I am not holding my breath for their discoveries.

In conclusion, there is an ideal pattern and framework that helps create foundational movement and helps landscape the amount of acceptable variability in a given system. The problem is not always the cause. Marshawn Lynch DOES NOT need strengthen his calf and hamstring. Nor does he need to isolate and strengthen his tibialis anterior and/or quadricep. He needs to improve his neuromuscular pattern of triple flexion in open and closed chain movements. The environment of a person or athlete matters for immediate and long term future. Sixty minutes of exercise is not enough of an attractor to counteract the overwhelmingly amount of time most of us spend sedentary. Throughout my time writing and editing this, the only time I stayed sedentary was when I was when I was stuck on a planefor several hours. All other times I moved from my desk, to the floor, to the wall, to the ottoman, and constantly varying my load distribution on my body. While there is an ideal pattern, there are also unique patterns that can be nearly as functional for certain individuals. Those who have the most deviation from the ideal pattern will have their longevity in question. 

The problem and the solution is our immense ability to adapt. We are always adapting to the environment surrounding us. A majority of most people’s environments are bad, so they have adapted poorly. Those who have environments that promote movement and variability will adapt well and thrive. We are always getting better or getting worse. There is no stagnation because change and time are constants within our lives and evolution. Are you sitting in a chair right now? If yes, you are adapting to get better at sitting in that chair. Do you walk asymmetrically? You’re only going to get more asymmetrical without a system in place to combat it. 

These processes and theories may seem complicated, but they are really simple at heart. They have become complicated because our environments have become too simple and sparse of adversity, thus ruining the complexities of our natural development. Having a fun and playful life from start to end is the solution. It isn’t about exercises, working out, or training. It is about having play be a integral part of life. If you are not an athlete, or a former athlete, when was the last time you went outside and just played? Or if you are an athlete, when was the last time you played just for fun?

Our current definitions of exercise and training are over complicated and undesirable in most scenarios. For most of the population it should not have to be about how we need to preform or how many sets and reps. But rather we should do it because it makes us feel good. People should not cringe at the idea of working hard. Moving makes us smarter. It makes us happier. Many times people cringe the idea of movement because it is an uphill battle against their normal sedentary lives. 

We are in a busyness bubble that is hurting our physical movement. Dinner conversations are full of, “Yeah I just have been so busy lately. Been working 12 hour days at the office.” Rather than, “Well, I’m actually in pretty good control of my work life and am never rushed with deadlines. It’s great, I can play with my kids daily, play golf, tennis, and run any day of the week, not just on weekends. And I’m way less stressed out!” We should not be running 5 miles twice a week, just because it is good for us but because it is enjoyable! We should be mindful of each present moment and enjoy running and being outside. Unfortunately most people’s environments has made something as simple as running painful for a majority of participants. One study observed 79.3% of runners developing a lower extremity injury each year (Gent, R. N Van, D. Siem, M. Van Middelkoop, A. G Van Os, S. M A Bierma-Zeinstra, B. W. Koes, and J. E. Taunton. "Incidence and Determinants of Lower Extremity Running Injuries in Long Distance Runners: A Systematic Review * COMMENTARY." British Journal of Sports Medicine 41.8 (2007): 469-80. Web). 

Olympians often times do not praise their time on the podium, but the exact present moment when they are playing and performing at their best.  The result of that feeling repeated over time allowed them to become the best in the world. Eaton is so competitive because it makes him feel good. He designs his entire life to feel his great when he performs and even better when he wins. He’s not competing with anyone else but himself. He’s not trying to be THE best in the world, but rather HIS best. It just so happens that HIS best, is also the best the world has ever seen.  

If something does not make sense, ask why. If the expert you are consulting doesn’t understand why, that’s valuable information for both of you. Einstein said, “If you can't explain it to a six year old, you don't understand it yourself.” If you can’t understand the expert, maybe they don’t understand what they are talking about as well as they should. We as a culture need to get better with vulnerability so these kinds of processes can become more common. We need to be able to accept criticism combined with challenging coaches, strength and conditioning specialists, and even clinical experts such as doctors and therapists. 

We need to develop the skill of stepping back and looking at the big picture of things, rather than just focusing on one variable. For instance, many pitching coaches complain of Bumgarner’s release point without considering the rest of his body. With technology and data becoming more main stream people must understand causation and correlation. Staring at the data of the ball path from a pitcher’s throw is irrelevant without understanding how his body delivered that pitch. Adversity and random play is good, it helps build confidence and set boundaries for fluctuators and attractors of movement patterns. If children don’t experience a diverse and interactive childhood, their brain will have a really hard time perceiving coaching cues and move their body with any integrity. Unstructured practice can be just as beneficial as structured practice. Make sure athletes know and understand why they are doing everything. All exercises, drills, movements MUST be understood and transfer to the sport.

If you liked this post share it. Comment on it. Email me about it. Critique and challenge me about it. If I misunderstood something, teach me about it. Thank you very much for taking the time to read this. 

If you want to email me, do not hesitate: austin@ApirosPerformance.com